When you sit down to interview Lumar LeBlanc, the brilliant mind behind one of the most dynamic and high-energy bands in the fertile New Orleans brass scene, the last thing you’d think you’d be talking is your mutual love of Metallica.
Yet, were it not for the baddest band in the land, this writer would’ve never have encountered The Soul Rebels. It was a sweltering July afternoon two years ago at Bader Airfield in Atlantic City at Metallica’s Orion Music+More. In one of the tents over a thousand metal heads were jumping, stomping and dancing to the sound of NOLA’s finest. I was captivated by the band’s hybrid of traditional New Orleans brass band acoustic bombasticness combined with their ability to turn any song whether it be funk, soul, hip-hop and even metal into an infectiously fat, fun and soulshaking sound. (Click here to read my full review of the band’s performance and the rest of that festival).
In fact, one could say (and this one will say) The Soul Rebel’s love of modern hip hop and funk have allowed them to bridge the generational gap between the rich culture of NOLA brass and the bright, shining future of hip hop. It keeps their music fresh and undeniably exciting.
In our conversation, in advance of their July 12th show at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey, Lumar and I spoke about New Orleans and its traditions, his love of New Jersey and of course, heavy metal.
Pop-Break: I first discovered you guys at Metallica’s Orion Music+More festival in Atlantic City almost two years ago to the day. I mean you guys were absolutely killing it that day. However, that wasn’t your first encounter with Metallica, I mean you’ve worked with them a ton. How did you end up hooking up with those guys?
Lumar LeBlanc: We were on the same TV show in London called Jools Holland Presents. The line-up that day was The Soul Rebels, Metallica with Lou Reed rest his soul and Aaron Neville. After the show Lars and some of the other guys were so excited about what they saw, they were like ‘We wanna work with y’all.’ We were really just thinking they were being nice but they were serious because they took my card and before that tour was over they called our management team and hooked up the tour we did with them in ‘Frisco for their anniversary show. It was all the stars lining up for that particular experience.
From there, I guess they were impressed so they invited us to the Orion Fest. We did work with them. We went to their studio and gigged around with them, practiced, got to meet some of their families. They really were some of the most high class, respectful musicians. They are also some of the baddest musicians I’ve ever met. They continue to show that desire to practice and play. They practiced a lot for that event [and] they practiced with us. The show was very well put together and definitely the Orion Fest was a success. We’re indebted to them for life for that opportunity.
PB: In regards to your sound and formation and you’ve said: “We wanted to make our own sound without disrespecting the brass tradition.” Now, I can hear that in your sound, but I can’t put it into words. Would you mind doing so?
LL: What occurred was we were the junior band to [Harold] Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band. In New Orleans they’re like sacred ground. They’re the traditional standard for brass bands. Unfortunately, all of them have passed and gone away. There was a hundred year tradition that that band had survived. So you gotta realize the mentality of what a brass band is to a whole other generation was given to us by Olympia. It was honor to be chosen as the junior band to them, being called The Young Olypmians. We didn’t want to disrespect The Olympians name by doing all the hip-hop, rap and funk music under that umbrella. They used to give us gigs. If they couldn’t make shows they would book us on it under the Olympia name. Business-wise and contractually we had to give that audience what they expected from Olympia. Sometimes we would sneak in one or two funk oriented songs and the crowd would love it. So we used that as an experimental ground. But we were still like, ‘Man this is Olympia’s thing. This is their gig and we don’t want to disrespect it.’ So when we played the “Soul Rebel” music we knew it had to be another name. But, at the time, we didn’t have another name. We would get gigs, say we’d go on an Olympia gig and people would say, ‘Man, I wanna hire y’all but I want you to do some of that funk stuff because I’ve got some young kids who would dig it.’ We said sure, but we just didn’t have a name. We were going to call ourselves the 8 Ball Brass Band but Cyril Neville, who named us, said it connotated too much negativity. So he said what about The Soul Rebels and we loved it. So whenever we would do those gigs we’d go full throttle: funk,hip-hop, in your face brass band music. So I guess what I’m saying is we don’t disrespect it by that and also our instrumentation. We stay true to being all acoustic — sousaphone, horns and drums.
PB: You do so many cool interpretations especially on the Power = Power mixtape. Of the songs you covered, which was the most fun?
LL: Oh my God…wooo…they all have something special. That tape took a lot of energy, a lot of focus to do. Each one brought up a definite energy all its own that’s special. I’d have to say Jay-Z [the band did a medley entitled ‘Thank You’ and a live version of ‘Show Me What You Got’ on the tape] because we got a call from his magazine Life and Times. They heard the mixtape and by getting a call from them to do the interview, I was so honored and touched. So I guess that one would definitely have a special star in my eye because Jay Z’s magazine actually recognized it as a monumental thing that was done in good taste.
PB: I’m curious, when you first started performing was it an issue to win crowds over outside of New Orleans and the South?
LL: Oh, it’s still an issue. It’s not as much today because hip hop is more accepted as mainstream music now. So many different artists are utilizing hip hop to express themselves so it’s not as hard today as when we first started. When we first started we got all kind of negative flack. We stuck with it and held to our guns so that’s why now we’re reaping the benefits. Sometimes now you go to these purist jazz festivals you might get a critical person who think it’s too aggressive for jazz. But once the crowd gets up and responds the way it does it brings us applause and approval. A lot of times that why they book our band — to get the people off their feet and dancing but also that we’re all horns and drums and paying homage to the New Orleans style — so we fit the bill for all these festivals. We still get the look some times, but usually by God’s grace, after the show the people are approving and the promoter sees why we’re so popular and gaining ground.
PB: You have a home base in New Orleans, a bar called, and I’m going to be butcher the pronunciation, the Le Bon Temps Roule (I pronounced it Luh Bon Temps Rule)…
LL: It’s Le Bon Temps Roule (pronounced Lay Bahn Tawn Rool-ay) which means “Let the Good Times Roll.”
PB: You say it a lot prettier than I do my friend.
LL: (laughs) Aww man, I’m sure there’s stuff you can say prettier than me. I love New Jersey we play there so much. We fly to Newark so much it feels like home when we get there.
PB: Well, Jersey loves you back, sir. Back to the venue. It’s a rather intimate space and you guys have been selling out much bigger spots like Brooklyn Bowl recently. Why keep coming back to this place?
LL: We have a personal kinship and relationship to the owner. The owner is Pepper Keenan who was groomed to play with Metallica.
PB: Oh yeah, he was in Corrosion of Conformity.
LL: Yeah, he owns that bar. So, we’ve been friends with Pepper for so long that we’re like brothers. We don’t want to mess up our report with Pep. It’s a place where whenever we’re home people can get their hands on us and come. It’s starting to get out of hand to due to the crowd attendance and the size. We travel so much these days that we don’t play there as much as we used to. We try to make it a point to be there around New Orleans Jazz Fest time, around Voodoo Fest…because that’s times when we know that it’ll help the club. We help bring in the national and international fan base. Whenever we’re in town we’re committed to playing there. It’s not about the money or materialism. We love that spot. They gave us a chance when we were in our infancy. I try to hold relationships in honor. That’s the reason we’re there — for love and respect.
PB: Do you also use it as a laboratory to break out some new material?
LL: Oh definitely. We experiment there and wouldn’t you know, we practice there when we need to practice. It’s a 24 hour spot so in the daytime it’s not too many people there. Joe, who manages the bar under Pepper’s ownership, he let’s us practice whenever we’re in town. Then we throw it (the new songs they’ve rehearsed) on the people that night to see how they respond.
PB: Your tour schedule is intense. You’re doing Wisconsin then New Jersey the next day. What do you guys do to keep yourself sane?
LL: That’s the thing man. You have to be mentally and physically in tune with yourself in order to do this career thing. We were just talking about it. You have to hydrate, you have to eat right, you have to keep yourself healthy both mentally and physically and have a good support system. The road can be grueling and you have to be able to maintain proper sanity and an even keel on the road. We try to implement a healthy lifestyle. You’re going to have those late night/early mornings when you play late and get up for the plane, ride or check out…you can’t avoid that. But, you can’t indulge in the evils, you can’t indulge in the drugs, you can’t indulge in the heavy drinking because you’re going to burn out. Our show requires so much physical stamina to play for those time periods. We try to stay focused spiritually, mentally and physically. It’s definitely a duty (laughs) but myself and Derek been doing it for so long that we pick members that we think would last for the longevity. We have guys who are really intelligent, healthy and creative, but the main thing is they can handle it.
PB: Where has this band taken you that you never expected…whether it be a country, a festival, or in the presence of a famed musician or celebrity.
LL: I would definitely say Metallica, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jole, Lenny Kravitz … there’s just so many people I can’t remember them all. It’s those people, but it’s also about those people who aren’t famous. For us, like Metallica, it’s not about the stardom because we’re not even a toenail into the light of what they have career-wise both monetarily and exposure-wise. They’re one of the biggest bands the world has ever seen. So, for them to gel with us, it was on a strictly artistic level that lead into friendship. But first, it was music. For me, the journey that has brought me to the highest peak has been about the people that would be able to take me to another level. For all the countries we’ve traveled too, we’re blessed. The people and countries are beautiful but for me this all about the music. For me it’s about the small guitar players who sit in and take me to another level to the [James] Hetfields. I’m going to tell you when you get to that point artistically, it’s not about playing with an A-List of players it’s about who you feel you can connect with artistically.
PB: Final question — any new music on the horizon?
LL: Yes, we’re currently in the studio recording some originals and some covers. We’re trying to have a new CD out by the new year or early in the new year. Our management team is looking for distribution or a record deal to push the album. If not, we’re content doing it ourselves. You gotta realize the CD process is so spiritual and organic that we don’t feed into the industry thought of you gotta put out a record every year. That can get so mechanical because if you know you have a contract that says you gotta put out three albums in three years you might put out music just to satisfy the quota. We’ve always based our CD making on where we feel the vibe of what we produced is right. Our CD always have a serious title and connection. The original was Let Your Mind Be Free, the last was Unlock Your Mind. You can get these industry people pushing you to get something out, but I tell them we are and are constantly creating music. We have songs we’ve been playing for 20 years we’ve rewritten, retooled, retwirled and reswirled. I’m blessed because we’ve made a good living off touring and we’re not under the pressure of the bigger pop artists having to put out CDs at a certain time.
The Soul Rebels will perform at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ along with Sakima on Saturday, July 12. Click here for tickets.
Bill Bodkin: (Co-Founder, Co-Owner, Editor-in-Chief, Media Contact) Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom